There has been a lot of discussion lately about the pros and cons of”being rogue” around the net, but few people seem to understand one important fact: There is a distinct difference between being a rogue and being a scrub.
Playing a deck that isn’t considered a net deck does not (necessarily) make you a rogue. Nor does writing R-O-G-U-E on your DCI card. Wearing a pirate outfit to your local Qualifier, while clearly displaying your intent, will probably just get you a bunch of strange looks.
To better illustrate what I’m talking about here, let’s hop in the wayback machine and visit what happens to be one of my favorite computer games of all time: Pirates! Arr!
I played Pirates! on a Commodore 128 machine back in Junior High and was so addicted to the game that I buckled my swash tightly and basically spent an entire summer (figuratively) sailing about the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico in search of endless bounty. I’d follow maps that indicated where buried treasure could be found, I’d slink into Spanish ports when the gold train was in town and rape the horses and pillage the womenfolk. My faithful crew (provided you paid them plenty) and I waylaid much more than our fair share of treasure shipments. Ah, those were the days.
The thing that made Pirates! truly unique and fun to play was the advancement system. The game wasn’t just an open-ended free-for-all where you tried to gain as much loot as possible; it also featured the ability to become a noble for the country (or countries) of your choice. Most importantly, it also offered the daring rogue an opportunity to steal into the pants of the Governor’s daughter. The hotter the blocky and pixilated picture of the daughter, the more prestige you would gain when you retired.
Random Aside: Speaking of hotties, has anybody seen Christina Ricci on Ally McBeal lately? She was quite the buxom cutie before, but apparently she decided to start visiting a personal trainer somewhere along the line and is rather stunning these days. However, I do find it creepy that when Christina and Heather Locklear stand side by side, they look the same age. Heather and Dick Clark either made pacts with Satan or are part of the same super-Methuselah (check out some Robert Heinlein books for an example) eugenics program. Perhaps if Contract from Below ever gets reprinted, the artist can feature both of them on the card, similar to the way the Jennifer Lopez is the model for Addle (also known as”Booty Call” around these parts).
So back to our story… Pirates! was an excellent game that allowed a player to pursue a diverse set of objectives and craft their on-screen counterpart into whatever sort of rogue they wanted. How does this relate to the term”Rogue” as it is used in the Magic community today? In my view, Rogue as it is used today can have a few different meanings.
Example 1: Rizzo was rogue in that he charted his own path. He refused to play net decks, refused to ID, and consistently made fun of the conventional wisdom on how to be a good Magic player. He practiced like a fiend and joined a team of Pro Tour Magic players – but time and again, he went against their advice on what he should be doing and played the game strictly on his own terms.
Example 2: Creating your own deck and choosing to play it at a tournament is rogue. Playing a net deck is, by definition, not rogue.
Example 3: Metagame analysis (including my own) often states that any deck that is not considered to be one of the top two to four decks can be considered”rogue.” This is an arbitrary definition used by metagame analysts to define decks that fall outside the dominant decktypes for a format (Like saying”You either play Fires, Counter-Rebels, or go Rogue and whip up something that can beat both of them.”) Right now, there is no dominant deck in Standard, so figuring out what is Rogue and what is not is tougher than normal – but even when you do this, you are still making an arbitrary distinction.
These three examples present valid, but differing, opinions of what the word”rogue” means when used in the Magic community. However, some of the uses listed can also overlap with the definition of the word”scrub,” which can be defined simply as”not very good.”
Example 1: Rizzo was a scrub because he never won anything. Okay, he overcame his scrubbiness for one shining moment when he made it to the Top 8 of a PTQ – but other than that, the homeboy was a scrub.
Example 2: Creating your own deck and choosing to play it at a tournament without testing it can be scrubby. Playing it at a big tournament without testing can be extremely scrubby. Playing a deck that you have tested and know to be bad at a tournament, but insist on playing it because you”worked so hard at it” is uber-mega-scrubby (which is sort of like Mega-mecha Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man – and sort of not). If you choose to play the deck because it is fun and funny, though, you win bonus points for being amusing. On the flip side, even a scrub can play a net deck and do relatively well.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Oftentimes players will think they are being cool and rogue, when really all they are doing is being a scrub. They let the desire to be different overwhelm their desire to win… And transition from a rogue to a scrub.
Let’s revisit the rogue examples for a second and analyze the tension between rogue and scrub.
Example 1: Rizzo was rogue in that he charted his own path. This is a true statement. Rizzo loved to be different and wouldn’t compromise his ideals simply for the sake of winning. Winning clearly wasn’t everything to him. But Rizzo often complained about his Bruce; the alter-ego that seemed to make decisions for him that would ultimately cause him to lose. Rizzo was rogue in his opinions, in his writing, and in his deck choices, but ultimately in his play he was a scrub.
Example 2: Creating your own deck and choosing to play it at a tournament is rogue. Playing a net deck is, by definition, not rogue. There’s a lot of tension in this statement between rogue and scrub. Creating your own deck is definitely rogue – but if you don’t test it, tweak it, and don’t put in the time to figure out what the weak matchups are and construct a sideboard to try and help against those, you may ultimately end up as a scrub.
Example 3: Metagame analysis (including my own) often states that any deck that is not considered to be one of the top two to four decks can be considered”rogue.” If you play a deck that is not one of the top two to four decks, but it is a net deck, can you still be a rogue? That would seem to defy the law stated in example 2 that playing a net deck can’t be rogue.
It looks like there are some incompatibilities in how rogue is defined, so I propose to redefine the use of the term in order to clear some things up.
First and foremost, rogue is an attitude. Rogue is the desire to be different; to not be a sheep. It says that you want to be a trailblazer in your gaming and not simply rely on what everyone else thinks is right. You can still use all the information available on the internet to your advantage, but you aren’t necessarily going to subscribe to the consensus wisdom of the time.
Second, you can be a rogue and a scrub at the same time.
Figure out what you want from being a rogue. Do you want to just build crazy decks and have fun – or do you want to win consistently on your own terms? If you want the former, then by all means, get to it. There is nothing wrong with playing Magic for its fun, creative aspects. In fact, too many players forget these aspects of the game and let their competitive drive suck away the best parts. Just know that if you want the latter, you have to be willing to put in the work to achieve that.
Know that when you choose to go rogue, you are choosing the more difficult path. You basically choose to cast off all the work and knowledge of others in order to do things your own way. In the pursuit of rogue status, you will occasionally fall flat on your face. Sometimes the decks that you build simply will not work. Other times you will make a wrong metagame call and get crushed against matchups that are horrible for you. Just like in Pirates!, anyone can be a rogue – but your success depends on the choices you make.
When building your own decks, you must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. Some decks that you build will be garbage. No matter what you do them, these decks will continue to be garbage. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll see some guy working on the same deck for months, trying to figure out why he keeps losing and struggling to make the deck better. In spite of all his efforts, the final answer is that the deck that he built won’t let him win. To be a successful rogue, you will need to determine when you have built a deck that”just won’t win” and discard it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself wasting your time with garbage while the next great deck just sits out there, waiting for you to build it.
If you go rogue, you need to make sure that you playtest a lot and you need to figure out what the strong and weak matchups for your deck are. Net decks will generally provide you with this sort of information up front because somebody is bound to write about them. If you want to be a successful rogue, you have to fill in these information gaps yourself. You also need to make sure that you build a solid sideboard instead of throwing cards together at the last minute like so many people do.
Being a successful rogue also requires (in my opinion, anyway) that you remember what is fun about the game. I get to play with Sam Fog every week – and besides being one of the more instinctive Magic players I’ve ever met, he also happens to be a classic rogue player. For small tournaments, Sam throws together pieces of junk that no one would think about, just because they look fun to play. His skill as a player allows him to win with decks that are weaker than a lot of the net decks that he plays against, but his creations are generally built on solid foundations. However, when it comes to big tournaments, Sam really puts in the time to build and playtest tight decks that wreck the metagame. At last year’s Nationals, he made it through the Constructed grinders with a mono-black Mercenaries design. At this year’s Regionals, he (along with Jimbo Ferraiolo) built Smoke and Fog, which had a match record at Regionals of 21-6-3. Sam remembers how to have fun with the game while still managing to be an extremely good player.
Last, and probably most controversially, being rogue does not mean that you never play net decks. This is a dumb assumption that you will need to discard if you want to be successful. Disagree all you want – but if you want to be a good player, you need to understand the best decks in order to figure out how to beat them. There is no better way to gain an understanding of a deck than playing it. I tend to change the deck I play at FNM every couple of weeks so that I get a chance to play the best decks out there and understand how they work.
There’s a key concept here in that you often cannot tell just how a deck works from looking at the decklist. Because they had never played the deck, a lot of people didn’t understand just how important Zombie Infestation was to Smoke and Fog, so they didn’t understand that if Infestation stayed on the board, I generally won the game. I didn’t understand how important playing Upheaval out of the sideboard was until about twenty games in. Back when I was playing Sky Tide, the same thing held true… People would think they were safe when they had a lot of life, but if I had an Ankh or two on the board, all it took was finding a Parallax Tide and another upkeep to combo them out.
Here’s another one for you: What are the key cards in Martha Stewart (G/B Braids)? If you said Braids, you are wrong; the right answer is Nantuko Shade, Duress, and Pernicious Deed/Spiritmonger. Braids simply helps screw people with land light draws and beat the Control matchup… But she isn’t the cog that makes the deck go (unlike BW Braids, where Vindicate makes her a lot more useful).
The overarching point is: If you never play net decks, you may never figure them out either.
So that’s my take on being a successful rogue. If you want to advance to be the rich Duke of the Caribbean while being married to the red-haired hottie and getting to be Governor when you retire, the keys are:
- Rogue is an attitude.
- Learn the difference between when you’ve created a good rogue deck and a bad one. Don’t be afraid to give up on a bad deck if it simply isn’t performing. Everybody makes bad decks sometimes; the trick is learning to stop listening to your Bruce and get rid of them. (As an aside, I’d love to see the five worst decks that Zvi and Brian Kibler ever played. Now that would make for an interesting article series.)
- Playtest! Know your matchups, and sideboard to fix the bad ones.
- Play the net decks to understand them. Once you understand them, you can figure out how to beat them.
- Have fun.
Until next time, remember that raping horses and pillaging womenfolk is still a crime in most states and countries, even if the horse was willing. (Can it be rape if you have a willing horse? – The Ferrett, musing on horse logic)
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